Medico-Legal Points.—Boric acid is a natural constituent of vegetable food products.
Mr. A. Scott Dodd has found an amount of boric acid varying from. 0.10 to 0.022 per cent
in currants, raisins, muscatels, and sultanas. The amounts varying from 0.003 to 0.025
per cent are present in such dried fruits as apricots, dates, cherries, figs, peaches, prunes,
pears and applerinds. A Hebrebrand has found minute quantities of boric acid in
the juices of oranges and lemons. J. T. Dunn and H. C. L. Bloxham have found it in
quantities varying from 0.005 to 0.003 per cent in the peel, and from 0.002 to 0.008 per
cent in the pulp of oranges from California, West Indies and South Africa. Wines have
been found to contain less than 0.01 per cent acid boric.25
Boric acid and borax are largely used as mild antiseptics in surgical practice, and
commercially as preservatives of milk and other articles of food. The use of these drugs
for the preservation of food materials is regarded as noxious and injurious to health
owing to their cumulative effects on the system, though they do not produce any ill-
effects when swallowed in small doses.
Accidental poisoning may occur from boric acid or borax having been mis-
taken for some other substance. In a Chicago hospital six infants died after they had
been given by mistake boric acid solution instead of drinking water. Each infant might
have taken from 15 to 16 cc. of a saturated solution of boric acid in 24 hours or approxi-
mately 0.8 to 3 G. of boric acid.26 Young and his co-workers also report a case where six
babies, aged 6 to 11 days, died between 19 hours and 3| days after they had been given
a single feed of milk which was diluted with a 2.5 per cent aqueous solution of boric
acid in mistake for sterile water. The amount of boric acid ingested by the babies must
have been less than 3 grammes.27
Accidental cases of poisoning have also occurred from the application of boric acid
on raw and abraded surfaces, or from washing out abscess cavities of the stomach,
rectum or bladder with boric acid. About 60 to 100 grammes of boric acid ointment
applied for three days on the eczema of a "boy, 4^ months old, proved fatal.28 John
Birch29 cites the case of an infant, 18 days old, who died after the application to the
mouth at least 2 ounces of borax and honey to prevent thrust. Brooke and Boggs30
report a fatal case of poisoning in a 9-month-old infant due to freely sprinkling boric
acid powder for a diaper rash, 255 grams of boric acid had been used in ten days. Borax
has also been used for suicidal purpose and for procuring abortion.
When taken internally, boracic acid and borax are easily absorbed by the alimen-
tary tract and are rapidly excreted by the kidneys, over half the quantity appearing in
the urine within the first twelve hours, but afterwards the excretion is slow, and the
remaining quantity is not completely eliminated for five days or more, hence they tend
to accumulate in the system under repeated doses, and may produce toxic effects. Both
these drugs are also excreted to a slight extent in the saliva and milk.
25. Lancet, Feb. 23, 1929, p. 405.
26. Me Nally and Rust, Jour. Amer. Med. Assoc., March 12, 1927, p. 841.
27. Canad. Med. Assoc. Jour., Nov. 1949, Vol. 61, p. 447.
28. E. Watson, Jour. Amer. Med. Assoc., 1945, 129, p. 332.
29. Lancet, Feb. 11, 1928, p. 287.
30. Amer. Jour. Dis. Child., Oct. 1951, p. 465, quoted by Max Trumper in the
Clin. of N. Amer., Jan, 1954, p. 301.